Holiday decorations aid Habitat for Humanity

By Mike Genet

In past years, they’ve had snowmen. Last year, penguins lined the trail at George Owens Nature Park. 

This year, it will be gingerbread men and women.

Gingerbread men and women cutouts are available for purchase and decorating at the Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity Restores in Blue Springs and Independence as part of an annual fundraiser.

Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity’s annual fundraiser – in which people in the community are invited to buy a large, wooden cutout figure and decorate it, either for lining the trail at the eastern Independence park or for their own homes – did not get shelved by the pandemic. 

Neither will the Winter Solstice Torch Lit Hike at George Owens, when the decorated figures first go on display. 

That event will be spread out over three days, Dec. 9-11. Hikes will be in small groups from 4 to 7 p.m. those days, and the park will start taking reservations for those Dec. 1. Call 816-325-7115.

The gingerbread figures will remain on display through the end of January.

Christina Leakey, president/CEO of Truman Heritage, said the people at George Owens actually suggested gingerbread men, and it paired well with the organization’s other planned fundraiser – building gingerbread homes to be displayed in the Living Windows program on the Square early next month. Friday was the drop-off date for that.

People were able to pick up gingerbread figures for decorating ($15 apiece) starting Nov. 3 at the Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations: 505 N. Dodgion Ave., Independence; and 1219 NW Missouri 7, Blue Springs.

“They’ve been going quickly,” Leakey said. “The school partnership, they’ve been cutting them out as fast as they can.”

Last year, for the first time, industrial arts students at Fort Osage High School helped by cutting out most of the wooden figures. They’re doing the same this year, and Truman Heritage aims to sell about 100 figures again. About 60 of them will end up lining the trail at George Owens.

“With our general contractor, we have the capability to make more, but we really like the school partnership,” Leakey said.

For participants – decorators and hikers – it’s a low-risk effort that can help brighten what for many has been a gloomy year.

“It’s giving them something safe to do, and it’s great for this particular year,” Leakey said.

Leakey acknowledged the wooden figures ultimately don’t amount to much fundraising, but the program helps in the long run by building awareness for Truman Heritage’s cause, as well as the Restores, which recycle donated furniture and related items that otherwise would’ve populated landfills and resell them at deep discounts . 

“It gets people into our Restores because that’s where they pick them up,” Leakey said. “And it works. It’s amazing how many people said that before they participated in this they were unaware of the stores.”

The pandemic has slowed Truman Heritage’s home construction efforts this year. Leakey said the initial stay-home order in the spring kept volunteers from assisting regular construction crews. Volunteer groups then had to be reduced, from 15 to 20 people to about six to eight. 

“Our construction schedule is behind about four months,” Leakey said. “We might have planned to finish a home in May, but were done instead in October and September.”

Still, with smaller, spread out groups wearing the appropriate safeguards, volunteer efforts have been safe this year.”

“We’re very blessed that we haven’t had significant issues with exposure,” Leakey said.